One of Hollywood's most luminous actresses, Gene Tierney remains best remembered for her performance in the title role of the 1944 mystery classic Laura. Born November 20, 1920, in Brooklyn, NY, Tierney was the daughter of a wealthy insurance broker, and was educated in Connecticut and Switzerland; she traveled in social circles, and at a party met Anatole Litvak, who was so stunned by her beauty that he requested she screen test at Warner Bros. The studio offered a contract, but the salary was so low that her parents dissuaded her from signing; instead, Tierney pursued a stage career, making her Broadway debut in 1938's Mrs. O'Brien Entertains. A six-month contract was then offered by Columbia, which she accepted. However, after the studio failed to find her a project, she returned to New York to star on-stage in The Male Animal. The lead in MGM's National Velvet was offered her, but when the project was delayed Tierney signed with Fox, where in 1940 she made her film debut opposite Henry Fonda in the Fritz Lang Western The Return of Frank James.
A small role in Hudson's Bay followed before Tierney essayed her first major role in John Ford's 1940 drama Tobacco Road. She then starred as the titular Belle Starr. Fox remained impressed with her skills, but critics consistently savaged her work. Inexplicably and wholly inappropriately, she was cast as a native girl in three consecutive features: Sundown, The Shanghai Gesture, and Son of Fury. Closer to home was 1942's Thunder Birds, in which Tierney starred as a socialite; however, she was just as quickly returned to more exotic fare later that same year for China Girl. A supporting turn in Ernst Lubitsch's classic 1943 comedy Heaven Can Wait signalled an upward turn in Tierney's career, however, and the following year she starred as the enigmatic Laura in Otto's Preminger's masterful mystery. After 1945's A Bell for Adano, she next appeared as a femme fatale in the melodrama Leave Her to Heaven, a performance which won her a Best Actress Academy Award nomination -- her most successful film to date.